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IIR staffer at school steps down

December 1, 2010

     A Monroe woman who spent the past three school years as a paraprofessional in the "intense intervention room" (IIR) at Adams Central School resigned recently due to her concerns about "lack of staff and the safety issues we face daily."
    Linda Bowman sent her letter of resignation, effective on October 12, to officials of the Adams-Wells Special Services (AWSS) Co-op, which is based in Bluffton and serves the six school systems in those two counties. She asked, "What will it take to get more help for the classroom of 14 children with severe emotional and physical handicaps at Adams Central?"
    Bowman is still assisting at the IIR as a volunteer, but says there are few other volunteers.
    The IIR at AC is for students in the North Adams, South Adams, and AC districts and has about 15 students and six staffers, with one more staffer to be added soon, according to Mike Pettibone, AC superintendent. He says the IIR has one fulltime teacher, three fulltime aides, and two parttime aides who also have other duties at the school.
    Michele Neumann, director of Adams-Wells Special Services, told the Daily Democrat that the vacancy created when Bowman resigned was been filled. At least one person was apparently added since she resigned.
    Neumann also says that, at Bluffton, there are 12 students in the IIR from the Northern Wells, Bluffton-Harrison, and Southern Wells districts, plus three staffers, with one more to be added soon.
    Bowman, whose children attend AC, says she is contacting the parents of the children in the IIR there because "one of my goals was to let the parents know of some of the changes to the classroom from staff cuts."
    Neumann, who has 29 years of experience in social services, the last four at AWSSC, says there were personnel cutbacks within the past year. But, she added, "The kids are always put first" in any decisions made by the AWSSC board, which includes the superintendents of the six Adams and Wells school systems.
    The reductions in staff, says Neumann, were made because enrollments at the participating school districts dropped. The lower enrollments occurred for various reasons, such as families moving away, perhaps due to poor economic situations.
    She also says there continues to be "better identification" of students' problems, which can range from autism to birth defects, learning disabilities, etc. Some of the youth in the IIR are in wheelchairs.
    Several years ago, says Neumann, Adams-Wells Special Services had about 170 staffers and now has 151 — 68 teachers, 80 instructional assistants, two assistant directors, and herself.
    The agency's 2010-11 budget (July 1 to June 30) is just over $7.3 million, which comes from each of the school districts plus federal funds funneled through the State of Indiana.
    There are 13 special education categories, according to Neumann, so quite a few people qualify for special education programs, although they cover a wide range of interests, abilities (or disabilities), and physical, mental, and emotional conditions.
    At Adams Central, Superintendent Mike Pettibone said there are approximately 140 students in special education, some 12 percent of the overall student population, and that is low compared to the state average, which Neumann says is 17.6 percent. Some schools have up to 20 percent of students in special education, Pettibone reports.
    Bowman said when she resigned that the intense intervention room at AC had a staff-to-student ratio this year that was about half of what it was a year ago. She declared in her resignation letter, "Most of the children in the room are nonverbal and can't tell their parents of the lack of staff."
    She went on to say, "We have asked for more help [but] there have been no changes. I have continued to be concerned about the basic needs of our students being met as well as assuring their safety."
    Bowman said many of the students should have one-on-one relationships with adult staffers each school day, but the staff is too small for that.
    Pettibone noted that staffers are with some of those students all day long, even in classrooms, and help feed them, change diapers, etc. as part of their regular duty.
    Bowman stated in her letter, "I have truly enjoyed working in the intense intervention program. Until this year, I felt it was a position in which I could really make a difference. The staff and children brought such a wonderful purpose to my life. It was truly an agonizing decision to submit this letter.
    "If there comes a time when there have been positive changes made, including adequate staffing, I would be grateful for the opportunity to return. I plan to continue to help in the intervention room, offering my assistance as a volunteer. I believe totally in the program and the work being done for the students."

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